Game Freak Director and Pokémon series developer Junichi Masuda has been speaking about the design process in creating Pokémon, and how this has changed over the years since the games' inception.
Pokémon has always been praised for its wide variety of designs, taking things as simple as plants, eggs or even sludge and transforming them into a unique creature. After 802 Pokémon created you would imagine ideas are running short, but this doesn't seem to be the case. Game Informer sat down with the director / producer / composer Junichi Masuda to discuss the look of a Pokémon, turned down ideas and how evolution can still prove tricky after all these years.
Mr Masuda begins with where pitches for new Pokémon can come from:
The graphic designers are obviously going to be the ones finalizing the look, but it’s not just the graphic designers who come up with ideas or draw the Pokémon,Sometimes a battle designer might want to feature a specific move in the game, which requires a specific creature. A story writer might want to execute a narrative beat that requires a new monster. Alternatively, it might be as simple as a graphic designer wanting to explore an animal that it has not yet inspired a Pokémon yet. These ideas come from a lot of different places, the gameplay, the visuals, the story, and in the end those ideas just get centralized and designed.
He then goes onto comparing Pokémon to every day living creatures:
One thing we always really pay attention to is treating them like living creatures so you have to try and imagine where it would live in the environment and why it looks the way it does, what would it eat? For example, When designing Pokémon, and not just from a graphic design perspective, there must be a reason for why it looks the way it does and you have to think about why it might live in the Pokémon world.
Before being asked if any designs are turned down:
Once you’re in the middle of creating it and someone were to say, ‘No!, that’s not a Pokémon,’ and the design process gets killed? That doesn’t really happen that much. Usually, instead, maybe the person who is directing the game might say it won’t work in its current form, but maybe if you did this and adding ideas onto it might make it work better.” For this reason, ideas for new Pokémon rarely get thrown away.
Even after 20 years of development Game Freak can still find evolution difficult, as Mr Masuda explains:
One thing that happens a lot – well, not a lot – but happens sometimes, is that you start out with a cat, and when it evolves one easy idea is to say, ‘Okay, now there’s more heads’
Masuda then said the following, going to a whiteboard behind him to illustrate his point:
We always want to make sure we think, ‘Why does that happen?’ And when it evolves why does it have three heads? So that’s just something we’re always trying to think of – what’s the reason for what changes and how it looks?
After hastily drawing a three-headed cat used to illustrate his point, Mr Masuda laughs saying:
Even if I said I really wanted to make this, I would probably get shot down.
The interview is a great insight into how Game Freak operates, and possibly what we can expect from the future of Pokémon since nothing is out of reach. This will be even more interesting to revert back to once the Pokémon game for Nintendo Switch is released.
What do you think of Mr Masuda's comments on Pokémon design?